Sunday, September 3, 2023

Pirates, Maroons, and a Serious Jerk!

The original "Serious Chicken," Negril, Jamaica

If you've ever been to Jamaica, you know that "jerk" is serious business! Jerk, the traditional Jamaican barbecue, is a process of marinating meat in a very spicy marinade and then slow-cooking it over hardwood coals. The marinade is a varying combination of green onions, thyme, garlic, citrus juice, scotch bonnet peppers, and a plethora of dried spices, such as nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, etc., but it is the allspice (or pimento, as it is called in Jamaica) that makes jerk jerk. It's exotic, delicious, and very addictive! 

The word jerk is believed to have derived from the Spanish word "charqui," from the Quechua word for beef jerky. (I have also read that it comes from the Dutch word "gherk," meaning pickled or preserved.) According to Traveling Jamaica with Knife, Fork, and Spoon, by Robb Walsh and Jay McCarthy, the origins of jerk began with the buccaneers who used it to preserve meat. In fact, the name buccaneer was from the Arawak (the native inhabitants) word "buccan," for a wooden frame used to smoke meat. Eventually, the Spanish ran off the pirates and inhabited the island along with their slaves. In 1655, the British invaded causing the Spanish to flee, leaving their slaves behind. The slaves fought and escaped by fleeing into Jamaica's Blue Mountains (home of the legendary coffee) to live with the remaining Arawak and became known as the "maroons."

If you've never made jerk before, I have the perfect recipe for you from the now defunct Manhattan restaurant called, appropriately enough, Maroons. The marinade is not as fiery as some and incorporates espresso beans (a nod to the Blue Mountains no doubt) which adds another layer of flavor and helps to mellow the heat. I've adapted the recipe to use espresso powder rather than grinding your own beans and utilizing pork tenderloin eliminates the need to cook it for hours, rather about 20 minutes on a charcoal grill (which I highly recommend) or about 35 minutes in the oven. Mrs. P's Cornbread, made with coconut milk, is a perfect accompaniment and coleslaw (although not traditional) makes a pleasant cooling side. Although you can buy some good jerk marinades at the store (e.g., Walker's Wood), making your own will provide such stellar results that you will take it very serious indeed! Ya man!

Jerk Pork Tenderloin

Serves 6-8 (or halve the recipe for 2-4)

1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground mustard
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly groung black pepper
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon seeded and chopped habanero chile (I use 2 serrano chiles, stemmed but with seeds intact)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 pounds pork tenderloins (about 2, skinny end folded back and tied)

Add all the ingredients, except the pork, into a food processor and blend well until you have a wet paste.

Place the pork in a large glass baking dish or plastic freezer bag and coat with the paste. Cover or seal and marinate overnight.

To cook on grill
Preheat charcoal grill. Place pork over heat and grill, turning every 5 minutes, until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees, about 20 minutes. Slice and serve.

To cook in oven
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Transfer the pork to a rimmed baking sheet and roast until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 140 degrees, about 35 minutes. Slice and serve.

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